A close friend of mine… let me just call her my little pixie… said she was going to tell the partners at the young startup she works at that they needed to institutionalise an optional day off for women on the first day of their cycle. After working in the system for 15 years, and usually having to steamroller on with no hint or acknowledgment of any pain, illness or weakness, I was stumped at her suggestion. I mulled it over later and realised that she was absolutely right. Workplaces should be made more conducive to women rather than constantly making them fight battles to reach the already in place glass ceiling.
My first job was at a print magazine and I really admired my boss there, and continue to do so. He was a mentor and he treated me no different to anyone else. However, when I chose to move to television it was a different story. The responses I typically got as a young female in her early 20s were ‘How do we know you won’t leave to get married?’, or, ‘It’s tough being out on the field are you sure you can handle it?’ I had interviewed with the same network 3 different times with 3 different departments before I finally landed a job or managed to convince them I could bear the long hours and carry tripods and that I wasn’t going to run off and get married. It’s somehow okay when a man says he needs to go home early for a domestic issue but considered a weakness when coming from a woman.
It’s time we blurred the lines between that glass ceiling and the clear blue sky above
Many years later I decided to take a sabbatical for two months to go and study abroad. You must understand that time off in the news business, as with most other industries, is sacrilege. There is so much insecurity about your position and so many men who would never take the leave themselves but will grudge you taking it nonetheless. I heard constant jibes about special treatment or lack of responsibilities for almost a year afterwards (most of which I just shrugged off). I have a friend who has just taken a year to go study on scholarship in Harvard with her 2 year old in tow and hats off to her. Its all about setting your own boundaries and knowing what it is you want to achieve.
It’s somehow okay when a man says he needs to go home early for a domestic issue but considered a weakness when coming from a woman.
You may have read the news about Facebook increasing paid leave benefits. I have always been a proponent of extended paternity leave as well. In Canada, new moms can take up to year off on minimum wages and come back to their jobs. In corporate India even something simple like day care or having a creche is not the norm. There are limited part time or flexible hour packages for women. We talk about family support but I know a lot of women who still go home after a 12 hour work and commute to cook, clean and take care of their children because ‘it’s their job’. The husbands don’t come home to change any nappies. Some are simply now choosing not to have kids.
Empower us rather than finding excuses for us to stay behind the curve
It’s time we blurred the lines between that glass ceiling and the clear blue sky above. Women today are striving harder than ever, are ambitious, and keen to make their mark. Level the playing field not by telling women to ignore things like period pains, pretend we don’t have needy husbands or have babies to breast feed. Instead create systems that support them so they can recognise their true potential. Empower us rather than finding excuses for us to stay behind the curve.